Be Careful What You Wish For: V8 Manual Step Van vs V8 Manual… Um… Well…

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Good morning, Autopians! It’s time for another Shitbox Showdown. Today, we’re making wishes come true with not one, but two vehicles with eight cylinders and three pedals. But before we do that, let’s check in on yesterday’s automatic GTs:

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Honestly, I feel like this one could have gone either way, and if pressed, I’d have a hard time choosing between them myself. But that 300ZX is too nice to ruin, and I know and love the VG30E, having owned a 365,000-mile Pathfinder with one in it. I think you all made the right choice. A few commenters wanted to manual-swap it, but if it were me, I’d leave it as an automatic.

Which brings us to today.

Anyone who has read stories of genies granting wishes, or played a Dungeons & Dragons game with a really creatively evil DM, knows that it never goes quite the way you expect. Often the letter of the wish is granted, but not necessarily the spirit.

It seems like every time we have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle that has either a six-cylinder or an automatic, the comments go something like, “It’s cool, but I wish it were a V8.” Or “I like it, but I wish it were a manual.” Well, I’m happy to report that today, you all rubbed the magic B12 Chemtool bottle, and a shitbox-wish-granting genie popped out. You wish you could have a V8 with a manual in our price range?

Your wish is my command. Heh heh heh.

1978 Chevrolet Step Van – $1,850

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter V8, 4 speed (probably) manual, RWD

Location: Aberdeen, WA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Starts, but threw a rod

This was actually supposed to be something even more evil: a Mustang II with a factory V8 and a 4 speed stick. But it sold between me uploading the photos and beginning to write. Lousy timing. But as evil choices go, I think this old van will do nicely.

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Chevy/GMC Step Vans, or P-series vans in GM-speak, are the ultimate expression of form following function. It’s a self-propelled box for carrying stuff around. That’s it. Incredibly useful, utterly uncompromising, and dead simple. This one-ton van looks like it has earned its keep for a long time, and probably over several iterations, judging by the hodgepodge of shelves and racks in the back.

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Its race may not yet be run, but it will need a little help before the last lap. Its small-block 350 V8 “sounds like it has thrown a rod,” according to the seller. But these engines are only slightly less common than sand at a beach, so finding a replacement should be easy enough. The rest of the mechanics, including what’s likely an SM465 four-speed manual, are said to be in fine shape.

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If you don’t need a work van, I suppose this could make a viable camper candidate, or food truck maybe? It wouldn’t be the first retired Step Van to find a second life slinging burritos.

Not your speed? Well, let’s take a look at what’s behind door number two:

2004/2008 Ford Mustang/Nissan Versa – $1,700

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.6 liter V8, 5 speed manual, RWD

Location: Gainesville, GA

Odometer reading: 165,000 miles (presumably on the Mustang part)

Runs/drives? Astonishingly, yes

I don’t know how this all came about, but I imagine it required at least these four ingredients: a Nissan Versa with a bad engine or transmission, a Mustang convertible that was most likely rolled, a Harbor Freight welder, and copious amounts of cheap beer. Somehow, those ingredients, when combined in the right way and baked in the hot Georgia sun, coalesced into something that not only runs and drives, but is almost kinda-sorta brilliant.

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It’s obviously a half-baked idea, and it could have been done better, but look how well the wheelbase and width matched up! It’s almost like these two cars wanted to be melded into… whatever this is.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the dimensions of the two:

2004 Mustang GT:

Wheelbase: 101.3 inches

Track width: 60 inches

2008 Nissan Versa hatchback:

Wheelbase: 102.4 inches

Track width: 58.5 inches

Close enough for government work. Or a couple of guys in a back yard.

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Obviously, those two dimensions aren’t the only two that matter, as evidenced by the awkward position of the engine and dashboard in relation to the Nissan body. Visibility is clearly an issue; sitting in the driver’s seat, you must be staring right at that buklhead at the base of the windshield.

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But with a little more development time (read: another twelve-pack), who knows what could happen? Probably nothing good, but it might be fun to find out.

What really astonishes me about this ad is that the seller says the work was done “not by me.” That means they acquired this bizarre chimaera as it sits. How exactly did that come about, I wonder? Did money change hands? Or was a bet won, or lost?

Anyway, there they are. Two V8-powered, manual-equipped vehicles, as requested. One’s dying and the other is probably a deathtrap, but both do fulfill the requirements. Choose wisely.



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68 Responses

  1. The van looks like something you’d buy when you start a band with your friends and rattlecan flames and your bitchin new logo across it. Even with all of that, it’s less of a train wreck than that unholy amalgamation of Nisstang

  2. I just noticed that gap between the Mustang dash and Versa firewall is just open into the engine bay. You technically have unobstructed engine bay access from the driver seat.

    The van is the logical choice but for some reason my hand had a mind of its own and picked the Verstang

  3. The van will walk away with it (though it might need a push), and I actually do kinda want it. That other thing I just point and laugh at. It will never be finished.

    But honestly, had the V8 manual Mustang II not been sold too early, I would have totally picked that. Not if it was a fastback (which it probably was, sigh) because those looked too much like Pintos. But I have owned both a ’76 V6 Mustang II and a ’77 with a four-banger, and I actually had good times with both. I would have liked to have completed the set with a V8 one that could actually get out of its own way. The V6 one was a cream puff, a Ghia edition with the half vinyl top, opera windows, and flawless scarlet velour upholstery, and it was like cruising down the road in a Turkish bordello. The only thing that didn’t work was the temperature gauge, which I was too dumb to fix promptly, and that was the death of it a year and a half later when I overheated it on the way to L.A.

    The ’77 I bought for $400 from a cylinder head machinist buddy of mine (who also happened to be the bassist in my band) after he’d rebuilt the engine. He’d made the unfortunate decision to install a horsepower cam in that engine, not realizing the degree to which it would come at the expense of off-the-line torque. Once you got up to freeway speeds (a mile or so past the top of the on-ramp) you’d be great, but getting there, man, I hope you packed a lunch and brought a good book. In most other respects it was a total beater. He’d sprayed it a rather attractive indigo blue, but then removed the overspray from the windshield with an orbital buffer that left the glass quite cloudy. I ended up cutting a “sunroof” with a torch to facilitate tossing newspapers on my eight-times-a-week rural paper route. The sparks from the torch ended up burning holes in my spare Pizza Hut Delivery uniform shirt lying in the passenger footwell. At some point our rhythm guitarist borrowed it, ran out of gas in an inconvenient place, was juuust inebriated enough to get scared when a cop came, denied being the driver (whom he claimed had set out to fetch a gas can), gave a false name, abandoned my Mustang II and walked home. Car was impounded, fines accrued to the last registered owner (my bass player buddy) who had a tough time paying it. We never did get the car back. Years later the rhythm guitarist fella wanted to be pals again, for us to forgive him. We said sure, just as soon as he repaid bassist for the fines, and got me another $400 car. Haven’t heard from him since.

    That’s not actually why I want another Mustang II, though. I found them comfortable (especially that Ghia) and fun and easy to work on, and it would have lots of aftermarket support to make it more fun and more reliable. Also I genuinely like how the coupes look (just not the fastbacks).

    But the stuff I described above… those are the kinds of adventures you have when you own a Mustang II and you’re not a Charlie’s Angel.

    1. I was really disappointed that the Mustang sold. I spotted it last week and was waiting for the right place to use it… and then the damn thing sells just when I need it.

      It was a fastback, white, white & black plaid seats, slotted mags. Sitting for 20 years but all there. Asking price was $1100.

    2. Props for the Mustang II love and admission of it (esp. the coupe preference!). Your type of stories are why I love this place.

      They get a bad rap by the fanboys, but in fairness, they did keep the flame burning in some troubled times, and the idea behind them made a lot of sense, if it was just perhaps executed in a not the best of all possible ways manner. But such is the real world of automaking, and it’s hard constantly hit home runs.

  4. I picked the Versa because I would like to hope that some additional creative welding and wire extensions could fix that dash and shifter issue. I’m assuming the seats would also have to be corrected or raised but that’s light work compared to that dash and steering position.

  5. I love the attempt at the Versa. Hell, I’d probably drive the piss out of it and happily borrow it for parts runs from my bestfriend/neighbor/brother/whoever owned it.
    The hackery of that dash scares me, though. I’d need to see what else it looked like before I dove into it.

    Step Van (what are you doing) it is.

  6. Looking at the Nissan:
    Pic one: meh…
    Pic two: meh…
    Pic three: engine.. meh…
    Pic four: WHATTHEFUCK?!?!?!?!?

    I’ll take the van with what looks like a pillow in the back.

  7. Gotta take the Chevy truck. Honest workhorses are hard to find cheap.

    I’m not sure I’d want anything to do with that Mustang/Versa combo. I wouldn’t want it as a finished project enough to actually finish it.

    The Mustang running gear is worth something, but not $1700. I don’t think the remainder of the Versa shell and other parts are worth the difference, much less leave room for profit.

    But I am really, really surprised at how much a Nissan Versa resembles a Porsche Cayenne or Macan when grafted to a Mustang’s running gear. Obviously not the same, but at first glance, I was wondering WTF is that, and that’s what came to mind.

  8. The step van, no question. It as least has some hope of ever being something worthwhile. That other abomination…To get it to something worthwhile would take more money and time that the finished product would ever be worth.

  9. i had to go with the VerStang. not because it will be easy to live with or even drive for that matter… but because it the embodiment of a thousand shades of whatthefuckedness all rolled into a chassis that doesn’t quite fit. Points for trying I guess. Bonus to whomever buys this and modifies is to be a quasi-water tight amphicar too.

  10. I was ALMOST tempted by that Frankensteined Nissan… until I saw the dash. There is a difference between a sloppy mechanic build and a poorly thought out, shoddily assembled, ludicrous death trap, and that Nissan-Mustang thing definitely falls into the latter camp. I’d rather grab an old 350 from some junkyard, throw it into that step van, and turn it into an ice cream van or taco truck or whatever.

  11. I actually quite like the concept of the Versa-stang. It could be a fun little sleeper. The execution however…not so much. And because of that I’ll take the boxvan. Would make for a nice camper/toy hauler.

  12. The step van, I like simple boxes on wheels and I would rather fix GM engineering than hey y’all watch this “engineering”. Plus the van appears to be set up as a service truck so it might have a compressor or generator in addition to the tool chest and hose reel

  13. Geeze, like others I was in on the Versa until that dashboard situation revealed itself. Under $2k is about right for a running “other person’s project”, but no deal on that interior.

    So I guess I’d take the van, harvest the hose, toolboxes, lumber from the back and take the rest to a scrapyard.

  14. I’ve resolved to embrace whichever car is bat shit crazier each morning this summer – that Versatang looks like it should be rolled directly into a padded room, so it is my choice for the day!

  15. Mark, my current DM resembles your description and takes pride in it. Happy to find another DnD nerd here. Should we start a campaign that we have to cancel after the third session because we all need to be wrenching on our shitboxes to get to work instead and can’t make schedules align?

    1. That sounds like my college game, except that only I was mucking around with cars, but two of us were trying to start a band, and the DM’s girlfriend got very demanding of his time. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy slaying kobolds, I guess.

  16. I went with the Van. Beyond the new engine, needs a clean up with some interior work. That could be a good work truck and crap hauler.

    The Nissan WTF is the very definition of someone else’s project. Back away slowly and avoid eye contact.

  17. I had seen the van, not the Versaphuck. My buddy has a good 292 I-6 he took out of a wrecked 70s truck. Since most of those came with such an engine, reverting to one shouldn’t be too hard. Plus it’s a good Fuck You to everyone who ripped out a perfectly good Inline 6 to be replaced with a ill-running junkyard 305.

    1. In the mid 1990s I was driving a 1966 C10 that had a crate 292 in it. The 292 had been used to test a fuel additive in the laboratory where my father-in-law was the purchasing agent.
      He bought the engine new for the institute, they put 50 hours of running on a stand on it. They did a complete tear down looking for unusual wear in the motor and found nothing so he bought it for his truck when it was declared surplus after the test.
      Putting your friends 292 in the van and running with that is the best idea I’ve seen in the comments for this article yet.

    2. It just occurred to me that I coulda went the opposite way. There’s a V-6/auto Y2K Stang with a good body sitting right here that could use that 4.6L/5MT like yesterday (although it does run and drive…fair…as it is). Is the drivetrain worth the $1700? Meh.

  18. That van would be great to take to work, especially if your “career” involves chasing down cyborg police officers through abandoned industrial complexes. However I’m not confident in its crashworthiness, particularly van-on-giant nuclear waste vat crashes.

  19. Mark.
    Are you trying to drive us to day drinking? Seriously? I literally just found a major, basic knowledge, never ever do this shit problem in things and now you hit me with this… this thing?


    Oh, and the step van. It’s a ’78, so visual inspect only. Parts are cheap and plentiful. Throw a big block and a 700R4 in it, pair of boneyard late model cats, and cackle insanely as your dually lights the tires.

    1. Probably the seller means rod knock , maybe a spun bearing. I’ve seen a tractor engine that continued to run after the big end failed on a con rod. Hell, speaking of tractor engines, TR3s are famous for continuing to run after breaking the crankshaft at the middle main journal.
      Speaking of farm mechanics, I have also seen engines with a hole in the side of the block from a thrown rod expertly repaired with JB Weld and roofing tin.

    1. My thoughts too, it got my vote. That engine is going to be really hard to get out of there though. I think it has to come out the doghouse and out the side door, or the body has to come off.

      1. No need to remove the engine from the van. The engine hoist rolls in from the inside, pickup up engine and keep it inside out of the elements. You already have a toolbox, air hose and workbench to rebuild it right there!

      2. Probably just the front grill and maybe the fenders if they’re attached. Through the front is the usual way on Econolines and such but it could be different on the step van. I don’t think any but the earliest cargo vans could have had the motor pulled out the door but maybe that’s what’s intended on these kind of trucks. Although hooking everything up should be easy. That old and with a replacement V8 it likely has no electronics beyond maybe an HEI distributor/coil, no pollution controls and a carburetor. Once everything is bolted together it should just run.

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